My wife has an obscure, sometimes dark sense of humor. And occasionally there arrises a moment in social gathering or conversation that we enjoy an ongoing joke. People will ask how we met and our story and she will relate it. In which I pursued her for four years consistently declaring my intent to marry her, then proposing on the eve of her leaving to serve as a missionary in Taiwan for five years. I waited. I would have married her sooner but I knew she was going overseas come hell or high water, so why not motivate her to come back. In total I waited for her to finish her commitment for five years. Which in my mind is a bargain, I as an introvert get nine years to be alone, and then the rest of my life with the, nearly, perfect woman. She will conclude this tale by stating, “Yeah, he is the better person.” The reactions we get are like MasterCard, priceless. It ranges from stunned to a bizarre mixture of stunned and confusion. The tripping point, we have learned, is not how long I waited for her; it is the confession that I am the better person. When pushed, she will then list all of the things I do she fails at, and in a final twist of the knife says, “He is the better one in the relationship.” Frequently, this leaves people reeling.
Now this is not me tooting my own horn or besmirching the character of my wife. She is absolutely all that and a bag of chips. I love this woman, she has exceeded all of my expectations in marriage. I would go on about how fantastic this woman is but for that see my article on the Proverbs 31.
Having covered my bases in the excellence of my wife. I would like to examine what makes our joke so important. Why is it that the idea of a husband being a better person than his wife so confusing at best and revolting at worst? Like every joke a truth is embedded at it’s core. And N’s (my wife*) joke has a truth in it that rubs many people, including Christians, the wrong way. The truth at it’s core is that women are sinners, on par with men. And while, as Christians, we may agree on the face of it in practicality it conflicts with our social norms.
The Matrilineal Society
The western world exists as a Matrilineal society. Where the men may have the outward facing roles of leadership, but women make everything happen, and as such are revered. This even plays itself out in the Church where male elders may “rule” but without the women everything would grind to a halt. Therefore the women exercise soft power What David Murrow in his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church calls, “The Velvet Veto.” Many things fall into place to create this kind of society, and you can explore this topic more over at Mere Orthodoxy where they recently put up a fantastic piece on the issue.
But I would like to springboard off of this view that is held in the western church at large then circle back to the original issue and give an exhortation. The problem, as I see it resides in the reverence we have toward women which tends to make them immune from even having correction issued towards gender sin proclivities. For example I can easily remember the last time I sat through a Jorden Peterson style, “Clean up your bedroom bucko!” style sermon aimed at men. But the last time I heard a pastor preach on the sins of gossip, nagging ,or not submitting to husbands, was nearly fifteen years ago and that pastor was run out of town with rocks actually thrown at him. Aaron Renn points out how every Mothers Day churches will give out gifts, honor and revere women in the church. But on Fathers Day there is usually a prayer for absent and failing fathers, at best and at worst a drill sergeant style sermon on manning up.
In short while wives are told officially to respect their husbands in actuality they to taught to despise, revile, henpeck, belittle, and mother him. And while many women to take Pauls exhortation in Titus 2:3 that the older women should teach the younger women to love their husbands, they omit the specifics of how that is done in 2:4-5. And the trickle down effect is obvious.
In Which I Advocate for a Friend
“With respect to marriage, in patriarchal and patrilineal cultures women usually must pay a dowry in order to marry men. In matrilineal societies, however, men must seek permission and often pay a “bride-price” in order to marry a woman either of his choosing or given in a prior arrangement made by the parents. If America were patrilineal, engagements and weddings would focus more on the husband. In matrilineal societies, however, men are expected to yield and pay deference to women as the primary life sustainers in family life, even if men hold certain offices like king, for example.” – Anthony Bradley, American Evangelicalism isn’t patriarchal or feminized. It’s matrilineal.
Recently a friend of mine, we’ll call him Steve, ran headlong into the fallout of this sinful and unbiblical pattern our churches have adopted from the society at large. Steve finds himself in an odd position. He is single, on track to be an elder in his church, employed, living on his own, and would like to pursue a woman for marriage. And therein lies the problem. Because for all that Steve possess to recommend himself he has discovered that among the single women in the church there is not one that actually shows Christian maturity. Yet there is a growing pressure for Steve to, “man up” and ask several out (while also not gaining the reputation as the guy who dates around.) The problem is always assumed to be Steve, that there must be something wrong with him. It never occurs to anyone that the girls are cliquish or should consider their own maturity. It’s an interesting if frustrating position to be in. Simply put there is an expectation that the young women should have high standards for who they date, however it never occurs to anyone that the men should have equally high requirements and that sometimes those are not met by the women present.
And just to twist this knife a little deeper the double standard can only lead to waifish, embittered wives and frustrated indolent husbands. The only goals given to women are unattainable secular standards. And for men nothing is ever enough. It is even expected that men operating at the highest levels of power on the planned but get sheepish and like George Bush insist that their wives are their better half. Laura may actually be the better person, but on some level can we consider that she was married to the leader of the free world? Perhaps is a small part of why the world hates Donald Trump is that he refuses to play this game of social mores?
Standards are not a bad thing, I have preached my share of man up sermons. But I have also preached my share of calling women to repent sermons. You can guess dear reader which kind goes over better. Biblical standard for how men and women; husbands and wives are to relate to each other have to be preached without bias. Men do need to be called up, “Christianity is a fighting religion” as Lewis reminds us men are to be warriors. But a warrior needs something to defend and come home to. And in many cases the brotherhood among men is secretly sweeter to them than hearth and home, where they receive lip service respect, but not the actual thing. I am reminded of the conversation between Chief O’Brian and Doctor Bashier on Deep Space Nine. Where in a moment of brutal honesty Bashier makes The Chief realize that while he loves his wife, he likes Bashier better. And you the viewer have to agree and the root is O’Brian is a great man (possibly the most important in Starfleet history.) yet his wife never sees that. His friend Julian Bashier does.
Grease for the Skids
They key to resolving this is humility. With all of the talk of rampant toxic masculinity, and voiceless women, I can cop to there being a problem. But the problem is as old as sin, because it is sin. The toxically masculine** male has the exact same problem as the woman condemning “this rampant problem.” They are both filled with pride. Humility calls men to love and lead, true masculinity is defined as “The glad assumption of responsibility.”*** resentful assumption is pride, refusal to assume responsibility is pride. Humility requires masculine men do this. But for women to snatch and grab at this, or to look down on how the work is done is also prideful. God has made men and women different and how we assume responsibility or respond cheerfully to that assumption of responsibility is part of His design.
And that sounds fine on the face of it until we get down into the weeds of practicality. Allow me to illustrate: assuming responsibility does not always mean unpleasantness. In discipleship I often teach my disciple over a pint or cigar, it creates a mood, it makes hard correction easier to hear. My generosity on the front end reminds them that I do care about them. And to the outside observer it may look like, “A night out with the lads” but work is being done. The humility of my wife is in recognizing that I have a goal in mind and I am accomplishing it. Pride would be for her to try and micromanage me and my methods. And by the same token I trust her to do the same with her disciples in her own methods. But in all of this the skids are greased by humility. She works and disciples in a feminine way, I do so in a masculine one.
Masculinity and femininity are gifts from God, but we have wildly misunderstood and misused them. Insisting women be like men and men be like women. Which is how Satan operates, he takes good things from God, twists and manipulates them into what they were never intended to be. Setting aright how the church sees men and women, and how it operates (velvet veto or actual Elder leadership.) Is a good place to start.
An early move of the second wave feminist movement was to create groups of women and to stimulate them to complain and be dissatisfied with their husbands. And that has proved to be something of a perpetual motion machine. Wives are commanded to respect their husbands, and to train younger women to do the same. Another good place to start.
Ultimately, humble obedience to scripture is required. We should strive to be such christians that my wife’s joke is accepted at face value and the two of us are deprived of a snicker.
*Taking from Lewis’s letters I will just be using first initials.
**I hate the term toxic masculinity because is implies that all masculinity is a bad thing when it is not just created by God it is also the terms in which He speaks of Himself.